Self Care is Not Optional–It's Vital: by Dr. Zelana Montminy, Author of 21 Days to Resilience
We are generally really good at taking care of others, speaking kindly with compassion, being helpful and loving. But when it comes to treating ourselves in the same way, we usually fall flat. The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. So why aren’t we better at it? Perhaps it’s because we feel like self-criticism propels us in some way, or that the labels we were called as kids start to creep out when we question ourselves.
Research shows one of the main reasons people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become indulgent, and the guilt creeps in. We feel badly when we prioritize ourselves over others. The reality is that self-compassion is what actually breeds motivation. When you care about yourself, you become better at everything else, including taking care of others. There’s a reason why we’re asked to put our oxygen masks on first in an airplane and then assist children and others. If we don’t prioritize our health and well-being, we can’t do anything else we’re meant for! The truth is, when we take good care of ourselves and practice self-acceptance, we’ll see an improvement in many aspects of our lives, including our health, relationships, and even our income. And that has to do as much with your mindset as the foods you’re consuming (more on that in just a bit!).
As a wellness architect and resilience coach, I’m constantly searching for ways to flex our resilience skills. What I’ve come to understand is that we’re better at weathering the daily grind when we know how to effectively reboot, not just when we hustle. Plus, self-respect and compassion is a buffer against stress. Being kind to yourself encourages our abilities to bounce back and grow stronger from setbacks. People who are resilient are able to maintain a high sense of self-respect in spite of the challenges they endure, which protects them.
Here are a few ways we can practice self-care:
- Build in time to be active into your calendar, just like you would a meeting. If you have hard time staying motivated, partner up with a friend and hold each other accountable! In fact, instead of meeting for a coffee or lunch to reconnect, meet up for a power walk to catch up while on the move. And don’t just limit yourself to yoga and the gym, while those are great, get creative and do a hike, jog on sand (at the park or beach if nearby) to increase your calorie burn, walk your kids to school if it’s within range, or try a new class you’ve never tried before.
- Choose your products carefully and consciously. We know clean, healthful choices support our physical health, but did you know they support our mental well-being too? By making healthy choices, we tell ourselves we’re worth it! We’re subconsciously reinforcing the positive feedback loop in our brain that builds self-worth. Choosing natural products like Manuka Honey (my favorite is Wedderspoon’s KFactor16!), coconut oil, or quinoa (my kids love Alter Eco’s Rainbow Heirloom Quinoa), isn’t just good for your body and tastes amazing, but also supports your mental health. It’s an investment into yourself that pays off majorly in all aspects of your wellness.
- Create a different space outside of work and home that is yours only – book club, painting studio, dance class, you name it. Make sure it’s a place or activity that makes you forget where you are, so that you’re in the flow and in the moment, that’s not related to your career or your family. This will nurture the child still in all of us, and develop all aspect of who we are. There’s happiness when we are fully immersed in something we love - and it’s a great way to refresh the mind and spirit.
- Practice mindfulness always, don’t just limit it to meditations. As beneficial as meditation is, sometimes it’s unrealistic to build into every day and for some people, it can feel like just an extra thing to do on their list. Research has shown being in the moment within whatever we’re doing increases our productively and engagement immensely. Instead of bogging yourself down, create a habit and practice looking inward throughout the day, even create a timer on your phone for a check-in. It can be a simple diaphragmatic breathing exercise that takes a few seconds, or just noticing the sensation in your body. Are you shoulders scrunched, is your back tight? Noticing things about yourself and your surroundings is a great way to practice mindfulness, and ultimately self-care.
- Practicing gratitude is related to improved health, greater happiness, better relationships, less anxiety and depression, and lower stress levels. The reason why gratitude works is that when we’re feeling thankful, it makes us appreciate what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have. In that way, we are more motivated to rebound from a crisis when we feel as if we have a good life to rebound to (or toward). Train yourself to think about a few things you’re grateful for while in the shower, or better yet, express gratitude to others which will simultaneously help that other person feel great too. Try creating a gratitude bowl in your home where you see it often – a glass bowl with notecards and a pen nearby to jot some things down you’re grateful for whenever you feel like it. Every Sunday, or whenever the going gets tough, read through what’s in that bowl and feel your spirit soar.
1 - Neff, K. D. (2009). The Role of Self-Compassion in Development: A Healthier Way to Relate to Oneself. Human Development, 52(4), 211–214.
2 - University of Hertfordshire. (2014, March 7). Self-acceptance could be the key to a happier life, yet it's the happy habit many people practice the least. ScienceDaily.
3 - Alex M. Wood, Jeffrey J. Froh, and Adam W. A. Geraghty, “Gratitude and Well-Being: A Review and Theoretical Integration,” Clinical Psychology Review 30, no. 7 (2010): 890–905.